Macheath, the original Mack the Knife, sneaks ‘round the corner into Dart Auditorium this week as Lansing Community College’s Theatre Program presents “The Threepenny Opera.”
While “Mack the Knife” is best known from renditions by singers like Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, the song originates from “The Threepenny Opera,” written in 1928. The musical play, featuring music by Kurt Weill and a book by Bertolt Brecht, is an adaptation of John Gay’s 18th century English play, “The Beggar’s Opera.”
“It is often said that older shows, especially shows written in the 1920s, are out of date, that their ideas are no longer relevant.” said Connie Curran-Oesterle, the play’s director. “This could not be further from the truth with ‘The Threepenny Opera.’”
Though the original “The Threepenny Opera” is set in Victorian England, Curran-Oesterle opted to put a post-apocalyptic twist on the story. This production is set in 2065, 40 years into World War III. An exhausted population no longer cares to protect the environment or economy. Curran- Oesterle describes the aesthetic of the play as “futuristic steampunk,” a blend of Victorian Era fashion and industrial era science fiction. Most of the costumes and props were carefully constructed by hand.
“I can’t give enough props to the prop-makers,” said actress Sarah Lynn, who plays Polly Peachum in the production.
The play centers around criminal antihero Macheath (Zach Riley). When he weds the seemingly innocent Polly, he incurs the wrath of the young girl’s father, J.J. Peachum (Travis Williams). While the character of Polly can come across as impulsive and petulant, Lynn sees a different angle.
“She’s a young girl in love,” she said. “She acts truly and wholly with her heart.”
J.J. Peachum tries to pressure Jackie “Tiger” Brown (Ian Whipp), a corrupt police chief, to have Macheath hanged. But Peachum, who runs a business that claims to aid beggars, has some secrets of his own.
“You would think it’s a kind of charity,” said Williams. “In reality, he’s training beggars in order to pocket the money they get.”
The play depicts a world where an appealing veneer often masks a dark underside.
“(J.J. is) a very twisted character,” said Williams. “But he’s a very charming person, despite the fact that he is so evil. He knows how to use his charms to get out of bad situations.”
The play is one of the first serious theater works to draw heavily from jazz. The music for LCC’s production will be led by former LCC faculty member and Lansing music stalwart John Dale Smith. In addition to playing keyboards, Smith directs the production’s eight-piece orchestra.
While the overall tone of the play is dour and pessimistic, it’s not all doom and gloom.
“Brecht and Weill knew how to keep a depressing story moving with humor,” said Curran-Oesterle. “While the characters suffer through some unspeakable challenges, they do so with charm and wit.”
“The Threepenny Opera”
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, Saturday, Feb. 20, Friday, Feb. 26 and Saturday, Feb. 27; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28 $15/$10 seniors and LCC faculty/$5 students Dart Auditorium 500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing (517) 483-1546, lcc.edu/ showinfo